One of the pivotal moments of Sunday’s game between the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills came in the early fourth quarter. Down 16-10 after giving up a field goal on the previous drive, the Bills were facing a critical 3rd and 8 at New England’s 45-yard line. With the pocket collapsing quickly after the snap, quarterback Josh Allen decided to take off and try to reach the first down marker on a scramble attempt.
His run came to an abrupt end. While Patriots safety Duron Harmon initially wrapped up his legs, his momentum carried Allen forward which caused cornerback Jonathan Jones to come in as well to stop him from gaining the eight yards needed to extend the drive. Jones tackled the Bills’ second-year passer hard, knocking Allen out of the game in the process. New England’s defender, meanwhile, was flagged for unnecessary roughness.
The play, unsurprisingly, drew criticism from the Bills with head coach Sean McDermott noting after the game that he thought Jones should have been ejected. The NFL disagreed, with the league’s Senior Vice President of Officiating Al Riveron releasing a statement after the game that the tackle was not worthy of ejection (and is reportedly also not worthy of a suspension, even though a fine still appears to be on the table).
“I have to see it on film,” said the man at the center of it all after the game. Jones briefly spoke with reporters in the locker room, and made sure to point out the tackle was no attempt to injure Allen: “There’s never any intent to hurt anyone when you’re running around playing football. Definitely gotta check on him, make sure he’s okay. But, like I said, there’s no intent to hurt anybody. We’re just running around playing football.”
Jones was not the only player on the Patriots to voice his opinion on Allen’s injury and how it happened after the team’s 16-10 victory. Duron Harmon, for example, looked at it from the game’s physical perspective — not without pointing out the league’s handling of situations like Sunday’s, though: “We all know J. Jones is a striker. He can hit pretty hard. Just the way the league is, if it looks too hard, they’re going to just call a penalty on it.”
“It’s unfortunate. We’ll learn from it, we’ll work through it, and we’ll get better from it,” continued the veteran defender. “They always talk about protecting quarterbacks. That’s the league that we’re in. Quarterbacks are the money makers, the leaders of their teams. They do a great job of just trying to protect them. We gotta find ways to tackle the right way and play fast. But when you play fast and you play physical, sometimes stuff like that happens.”
Bill Belichick apparently agrees with Harmon’s point of view. The Patriots’ head coach talked to the media on a conference call on Monday morning, and the topic of Allen’s injury and the play that led to it was naturally brought up as well. Besides answering a question about Jones’ potential intent to hurt opposing players by playing on the edge with a clear “no,” Belichick also talked about the teaching aspect of a situation like this one.
“When there isn’t really much you can tell them to do differently, then I think you don’t tell them anything,” said Belichick when asked what he would tell his players — in this case Jonathan Jones — afterwards on the sideline. “I mean, Allen’s a big runner, he’s a strong guy, he’s hard to tackle. He certainly broke several tackles against us. Jon turned when he hit him, he didn’t lead with his head, he didn’t have that posture.”
“Ultimately, the decision rests with Al Riveron, the game officials and the NFL office on that play,” added Belichick when addressing McDermott’s comments about how Jones should have been tossed out because of the tackle. “So it doesn’t really matter what you think or what I think or what anybody else thinks, they’re the ones who are officiating the play and we’ll coach it within the rules as the rules are interpreted.”
Belichick, of course, was in a somewhat similar situation in 2001 — coincidentally also against the Bills: in just his 12th game as the Patriots’ starting quarterback, Tom Brady was flushed out of the pocket as well and trying to advance the football as a ball carrier. Buffalo cornerback Nate Clements tackled him hard, and while he was not knocked out of the contest learned a valuable lesson as he said on WEEI’s Greg Hill Show on Monday.
“I remember the next day, Coach Belichick said to me — I’ll never forget this — ‘Hey Brady, if you want to have a career in this league, when you’re running like that, you throw the ball away or slide,’” Brady said about the play that took place almost 18 years ago. The now 42-year-old is apparently living by those words to this day, as he rarely scrambles and always slides down before putting himself in any dangerous situations.
Allen, on the other hand, was fighting for the extra yardage and not sliding down when Jones tackled him — which was likely the difference between a penalty and a penalty plus an ejection.